The James Foley Beheading Video And How Americans Conceptualize Their Enemies
from the sorry-ostriches dept
As Mike recently mentioned, there is a heated debate throughout the internet and the country over whether or not social media and content sharing sites like Facebook and YouTube should be actively taking down videos of American journalist James Foley being beheaded by ISIS/ISIL. The issue, which I've chosen to write about here before, is even more important and serious than perhaps it appears on the face for most people. Mathew Ingram's post dealt with many good aspects of the debate, some of which we'll discuss, but I think he leaves out a large part of the equation. More on that in a moment.
Let's start this off by reiterating that this is a subject that needs to be dealt with openly, honestly, and with the kind of seriousness the loss of a journalist to a group like ISIS/ISIL deserves. It is, in that context, incredibly easy to understand why family members of Foley, or his friends, might request the images and video of his death by beheading be removed.
It’s easy to understand why the victim’s family and friends wouldn’t want the video or screenshots circulating, just as the family of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — who was beheaded on video by Al-Qaeda in 2002 — or businessman Nick Berg didn’t want their sons’ deaths broadcast across the internet. And it’s not surprising that many of those who knew Foley, including a number of journalists, would implore others not to share those images, especially since doing so could be seen as promoting (even involuntarily) the interests of ISIS.No doubt. The actions taken in that video were as barbaric as can be imagined, glorifying the murder of a non-combatant strictly for being a kafir. An infidel. A non-believer. It takes a stone-heart to watch the video and not wince, cringe, cry. For those close to Foley, it must be agonizing.
It's also necessary.
After Ronan Farrow compared ISIS content to the radio broadcasts in Rwanda that many believe helped fuel a genocide in that country in the 1990s, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci argued that in some cases social platforms probably should remove violent content, because of the risk that distributing it will help fuel similar behavior. But others, including First Look Media’s Glenn Greenwald, said leaving those decisions up to corporations like Twitter or YouTube is the last thing that a free society should want to promote.And Greenwald is right, in part because the entire concept of a platform like Twitter lends itself poorly to being policed by overseers, but also because we don't need hosts of user-generated content scrubbing the decks for us. Some will say that such despicable acts have no place on Twitter, but ISIS/ISIL has been posting videos to Twitter of beheadings of non-Americans for months without much outcry. Others might suggest that Twitter should actively police their users and disallow extremist groups from the platform entirely, but who gets to decide which group is too extremist to be heard from? And still others will claim that allowing the video to be seen gives ISIS/ISIL exactly what they want and moves their message into the public's eye when it might otherwise be hidden.
I say that's a good thing.
“I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established,” Abu Mosa, a spokesman for the terror group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), told VICE Media in a video interview posted online Thursday. “Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House,” he added.Abu Mosa was featured in Vice Media's outstanding reporting from inside ISIS/ISIL. But the claim that they will raise their flag over the White House is only one half of the threat; the video of James Foley is how they intend to behave once they've done so. Now, will ISIS/ISIL ever actually achieve this? Likely not, of course, but that isn't the point. Whatever your opinions on the Middle East, on the War on Terror, on the Iraq War, whatever your politics, one must acknowledge that if America truly has any enemies in this world, and we do, then ISIS/ISIL must be counted amongst the most grave of those threats.
Think back to the year 2000 and ask yourself how much the average citizen knew about Al Qaeda. The answer should be "very little." So, when the attacks came, the most horrific the American public had ever seen, they came out of seemingly nowhere. Sure, people may have known the name "Osama bin-Laden", but they didn't know what his group was about in detailed form. They didn't know the history. They may not have been able to pick out Afghanistan on a globe.
If we're to avoid that history repeating itself, the American public should at least be granted the option of viewing material that highlights exactly who the enemy of secular freedom is and what they are about. Both are on display in the video of ISIS/ISIL beheading James Foley. If the actions of the barbarians in this world are of importance, and they are, then hiding them from the cowering masses does nothing to serve those masses. Does ISIS/ISIL want their video to be seen? Of course, because they think their actions will frighten us into inaction and retreat. It's important that the public not be denied the opportunity to disabuse them of that foolish notion. There is a battleground here and that reality must be dealt with on reality's terms. Burying our heads in the sand must not be an option.
James Foley went to the battleground in an attempt to give us a glimpse of the reality that is occurring there. It dishonors him to erect an opaque sheen of censorship before the price he paid.